This winter I spent my time on the trainer working on my FTP. I increased my FTP by 10% over the 3 months leading into my training. I also kept up my volume on the run and made sure I was very specific with the few days a week I was running by running within my prescribed power zones. One callout specifically about my physiology so that my heart rate numbers don’t freak you out – I run at a very high heart rate with a max around 210 bpm.
12 week advanced training plan
Since I wanted to complete my FTP training, it put me up against a tight timeline going into my Ironman training. I decided to go ahead and focus on an aggressive 12 week plan since I already had a weekly average volume around 9 hours.
The early training weeks had several 2-3hr days and averaged 14hrs/week. As the plan progressed I had longer weekends and shorter week day sessions and averaged 16hr/week. Key endurance workouts included 6x 3000m+ swims, 4x100mi+ rides, 5x15mi+ runs (including a 21mi @ 7:27min/mi pace the day before Fiesta Wildflower). Speed work included repeats and intervals in all three disciplines based on FTP, swim threshold, or threshold run pace/power.
Galveston like all races and events leading into Ironman Texas this year were purely training opportunities. That being said, when we were reviewing the last taper week on Monday and trying to align Sean Bean’s Chronic Training Load (CTL) and Training Stress Balance (TSB) for an awesome race we noticed my TSB was sitting at -29.3. Although that was normal for a Monday in this plan, that was a deep hole going into a 70.3 race. I decided to modify the week some, so that I didn’t hurt myself during the race. My adjustments left me at a 0.8 TSB the day before the race.
Morning – Setting up transition went smoothly - that is until I put my watch in multisport mode. My watch has been giving me problems for a while. I had not been able to turn it off since Devil’s backbone over a month earlier. I had been stretching it from charge to charge and when it did die – I would have to do a trick while it was plugged in to back into training pages. I knew Garmin was about to release a new triathlon watch, so I could not justify replacing it right now. That morning it decided to freeze and since I could not power it down I was out of luck. John R. was vacationing in town and had his watch, so thankfully after a hectic run in flip flops to meet him in the parking lot I was back in business. In all the chaos, the rest of the morning was a blur, but I realized later that I did not put on any sunscreen.
Swim Goal: 35 min
Swim Finish: 35 min
Swim PR: 32 min
This would be my second open water swim of the year. The first being Devil’s Backbone. This swim went well – I felt like I was able to navigate through the crowd well.
T1 – I executed transition well and was quickly on the bike. I had my pedals clipped in and since I hadn’t practiced this in a while going into the race (not recommended), I was happy to stay off the ground.
Bike Goal: .81 IF, NP 165 watts, HR avg 170 bpm ~ time 2:35
Bike Finish: .78 IF, NP 151 watts (2.6 W/kg), HR avg 168 bpm = time 2:38
Bike PR: 2:37
The mishaps continued. Shortly after leaving transition I started hearing a hissing sound. Fearing a flat, I rolled to a stop and checked both tires. Puzzled I got back on and started riding again. There was the hissing sound once again. What was going on? I stopped and after checking both tires I freehand spun my front wheel and noticed that a helmet sticker was stuck in the fork. Awesome. All advantage from the pedals on the bikes was gone, but no big deal. I got back to work and realized my power nor was my heart rate reading on John’s watch. I had calibrated and connected that morning before transition closed, so it should have been there. I was getting worked up and knew it would be a long day, so I decided not to mess with it and just ride on.
Around 25 minutes into the ride I decided to go ahead and attempt turning on my power and heart rate. It worked! I had rode the entire bike ride blind at Devil’s backbone, so I was excited to race with some guidance. The first thing I noticed as that I was riding at a much lower power than my goal. I was sitting around 140 watts. I climbed up to 165 watts and noticed my heart rate was rising above 175. I realized the crosswind was taking more energy out of me in bike balance then I had planned for. I back down to 155-160 range where my heart rate dropped back down below 170. That’s where I stayed for the remainder of the ride. On the way back I felt strong with the slight tail wind. I’d rather have it that way any day. Over one the bumps on the way back I lost a nutrition bottle. I still had 40 min left on the ride, so luckily I had a sparebar on me. I ate half to make up for the calories. There were a lot of people on the course, so it was hard to navigate in and out of people, but overall it was a good ride.
T2 – Flying dismount was a success! I cruised into T2, racked my bike, placed my helmet, grabbed my race number, through on my hat – and off I went. Anyone catch what I forgot? Running Shoes! Yep, I made my way all the way down my aisle and made a turn for Run Out. I looked around and saw the crowd looking down at my feet. I thought am I bleeding? As I looked down to figure out the source of their whispers, I realized I was barefoot. After a quick run back to my bike, I was on my way out and back in business.
Run Goal: .85 IF, Pace 6:42/mi, HR avg 175 bpm ~ 1:28
Run Finish: .89 IF, Pace 6:39/mi HR avg 179 bpm = 1:27
Run PR: 1:31
I had been very surprised with how my running was coming along this year. Last year I spent a lot of time working on raw speed and although my winter had been focused on the bike, that speed was translating well into the endurance running. For that reason I set myself a lofty goal on the run. I figured since this was a training race that I should push my limits and help me gauge my true fitness off the bike. When I started the run I had some leftover time from turning back in T2. I had started my run on the watch early since I was already almost out of T2, so that turnaround affected my first mile split. Knowing it was a flat course, I figured racing off of feel I’d come in through mile 1 around 6:40. I was surprised when my watch went off at 6:58 and figured that was just the pace I could muster that day. When the second, third, and fourth mile came back as the splits I’d expect I realized the T2 error. The run was great seeing so many fellow Tri Force team members on the course. The run felt very smooth and I only took one Justin’s almond butter around mile 8. I traded off between water and Gatorade with some ice here and there. Before I knew it I was about a 1.5 miles out and I really started to feel the pain of the pace. Knowing I only had another 10-15 minutes, I really started to dig. This took a large increase in perceived effort, but that’s what it took to maintain pace through the finish.
Fiesta Wildflower 100mi
Ride Goal: IF .78, NP 152 watts, HR avg 165 bpm
Ride Finish: IF .83, NP 161 watts (2.65 W/kg), HR avg 162 bpm = 5:14
The reason I am highlighting this training century over some of my other rides is because it was a little bit of a breakthrough for me. I held a higher NP at a lower heart rate than I expected and I executed my nutrition perfectly. I had 4 Cave Man bars, Justin’s almond butter, 2 bottles of Skratch, and 4 bottles of water. I had two short stops throughout the ride at the halfway 50 mi stop and another around mile 72. I rode a little harder than I planned for IM Texas, but I knew backing off a bit I would be very comfortable and set up well for the run.
Ironman Texas (Texapocalypse)
Last Taper week – As I mentioned previously for Galveston, we work on balancing our training base (CTL) with recovery (TSB) as an intersection leaving the athlete at their optimum racing balance. For me I race well when a 70.3 is around 5-8 TSB and 10-15 TSB for an Ironman. I would have liked to get in one more swim in that last week, but I was still able to bring my TSB from a -22 on Sunday (5/8) to a +14 the day before the race (5/13).
Morning – I slept well. We tried getting Zoë down early and it worked, so we took advantage and joined her. Once we got up, we did our best to grab everything we needed and sneak out while keeping Zoë asleep. It was a success until we got in the car and lights woke her up, but she was all smiles! We parked at Whole Foods and made our way across the bridge to swim start. It was hectic, so my family stayed back while I went in dropped off my bottles and topped off my tires. My tires had come down from 90psi to 80psi overnight. Be sure you check your tires on race morning! The expansion of air from rising temps up to 97 degrees and then cooling off and contracting to 67 degrees overnight caused a big change. After finishing set up, I met back up with my family and we walked around the crowd to the trail that went around the park. We followed that around, so that we could get clear of everyone, but I was still close enough to get to swim start when the time came. At this point I had already eaten 1 ½ Cave Man bars so around 300 calories. I knew better, but my mistake was that I did not even finish an entire water bottle before the swim. With 15 minutes to race start I made my way through the pack. I was wearing a Roka swimskin (thanks Dave!) and although I had used it in three open water swims leading into the race I wasn’t sure what impact it would have on my swim. I did some in-place exercises to warm up my arms and shoulders the best I could without hitting someone in the face.
Swim Goal: 1:13 non-wetsuit
Swim Finish: 1:18
Swim PR: 1:10 wetsuit, 1:18 non-wetsuit
I love the self-seeded rolling start. I was bummed about the course change only because the canal made it much easier to sight the final 1200m. Now the course navigated the body of the lake and would require active sighting from buoy to buoy. There were several hundred self-proclaimed sub 1hr swimmers that morning. This was consistent with what I’ve seen in marathon corrals, so I kept getting pushed back as my goal was 1:10-1:15. That didn’t matter though because I knew once we got in the water I could get to the inside or outside and avoid the crowd. Once we jumped in I quickly realized that either shoulder tightness or the positing of the swimskin wasn’t allowing me to sight well when breathing to my right. Anytime I tried, it would lead to a few inefficient strokes and a bit off course. This meant anytime I wanted to sight, I had to time it with a left side breath. This caused me to drift inside, so I found myself adjusting a lot and trying to stay on the buoy line the best I could manage. Once we got to the two turns at the end of the lake and started heading back, I remember thinking that it felt too easy. I decided to pick up the pace and that’s when I got my first cramp in my left foot. I knew right away it was because I was dehydrated from the night’s sleep and without drinking enough water this morning to compliment the calories. I was not cramping in this warm swim. I didn’t get these cramps often usually in a morning swim in training for the same reasons, but I would just stop at the end of the pool and stretch it out and continue. I had never experienced one during an open water swim, so I went back and forth in my head whether I should stop or ride it out. I decided to try and ride it out and to my surprise it only lasted about 30 seconds. A few minutes later I got a cramp in my right foot, and this one hurt! I tried to swim through it the best I could and it did throw off my kick a few times and eventually 30-45 seconds later it also passed. I was counting buoys, so at this point I knew I was about 600m out and I started pushing harder to finish out the swim. With around 300m left I got my second cramp in my left foot. Yeah, I was over this swim. The cramp released but lingered through the finish.
T1 – After seeing my swim time I was a bit disappointed, but not surprised. The transition was pretty quick and uneventful. I through on my glasses and my fanny pack. Yes, I had a spi-belt/fanny pack to carry mybars and almond butter. It worked very well to carry my nutrition since my tri-suit pockets were too small and I needed the bars pre-opened and stored in accessible sandwich bags. For any that saw me at Wildflower I trialed Nicole’s pink one, since it worked so well she ordered me a black one. Once I had my belt, helmet, sunglasses, socks (prevent T2 feet burning which is common at IM Texas) and shoes I made my way to my bike and out on the ride.
Bike Goal: .78 IF, NP 150 watts, HR avg 165 bpm ~ time 4:30
Bike Finish: .74 IF, NP 145 watts (2.51 W/kg), HR avg 166 bpm = time 4:29 + 5min penalty = 4:34
Bike PR: N/A
The plan for the bike was to replicate my nutrition and go a little easier than my ride for Wildflower. Once we cleared the town the route was a mix of neighborhood roads, highway access road rollers, and few longer stretches on decently paved country roads. I reviewed the profile of the ride beforehand and knew the first 25 miles were net downhill, so I went with my plan and focused on power. I went through the first hour at 22mph, but was confident in my power prescription, so I continued on. This was a fast course the rollers were highway frontage roads, so they just got high enough for the overpasses and then you went downhill to the next one. These were easy to gain momentum on the way down and carry them halfway up the next. For all the turns, unless they were congested which a few were I took them pretty fast. I would take the best line I could manage then do a quick 10 sec 200 watt acceleration and get back on plan. My nutrition as previously stated were the 4 Cave Man bars, but I also had 2 bottles of 1.5 concentrated Skratch. This averaged out to 204 calories/hr. Based on my previous Ironman Texas experience, I was also taking on a bottle at every aid station and drinking half of it while pouring the rest on my arms, head, and body to keep down my core temperature. Also after I shed the first Skratch bottle about halfway through I started picking up two water bottles per aid station. The mistake I made here that I wouldn’t realize until later, was that I wasn’t tracking how many of these half bottles of water that I was drinking. I’m not sure if it was because the ride was shorter, but the overall atmosphere of the riders was more aggressive much like a 70.3 race and there were a lot of peloton pack riding. I saw James riding strong around mile 45, so I’m sure he can attest to the several groups of 5-6 riders that would come up together two abreast and move on past you taking turns on the pull. I would say there were at least 6 groups that passed me like this and the frustrating part was typically the riders in the back were too slow, but getting back past the full group was more effort than I was willing to put out. They would typically stay around until someone took over the pull and they would take off again with fresh legs out front. A group like this came up on me around mile 70 and frustrated with having to slow down after the front of the group passed, I fell back but then as they slowed I caught back up to them. I was there probably about 2 minutes and thinking about whether I would just make a move back past the group or slow back down. A motorbike pulls up and issues me a blue card. I was drafting it was a good call, but it was frustrating nonetheless. I stuck to my plan the rest of the ride and continued with my nutrition. I was feeling strong all the way through the rest of the ride. I was very well hydrated, but only peed once on the bike. When I got to the penalty tent it was about 40 feet from the dismount line. I tried not to think about it too much and take advantage of the time to finish off my second Skratch bottle and apply some Vaseline to my back where the Roka had rubbed me little raw. My heart rate came back down to 130 and since I was close to the dismount they said I could run my bike in from there. I snapped my cleats back on and waited. It was a long 5 minutes. While waiting, I overheard them discussing, compared to the past three years this was the most penalties they had seen. I figured with my bike I was in the top 25%, so there had to be a lot more to follow. I tried to do my best to stay positive about it all and brush it off to being part of the Texapocalypse experience.
T2 – I flew into transition past anyone around me. I had dropped my heart rate and I was 5 minutes recovered, so I figured I would make up some time through transition and then into the run. I grabbed my hat, water bottle, race belt with number, then threw my helmet and fanny pack in the bag.
Run Goal: .72 IF, Pace 7:30/mi, HR avg 168 bpm ~ 3:17
Run Finish: .60 IF, Moving Pace 9:20/mi HR avg 157 bpm = 4:05 + 30 min of a race pause = 4:35
Run PR: 3:30
This run was an adventure. I’ve always run off of feel for these races. I have a goal and have a good idea what I can manage and with those in mind I let my brain/body calculate the pace. I use my metrics pace and heart rate as a guard rail for when that calculation seems to be off. When I started the run, I did my best to shrug off the 5 minute penalty. I was happy to see all my family right at the start including a precious Zoë asleep in the stroller. I tried to give Nicole a running kiss probably about 7:45 pace, which she in a better frame of mind passed along with blowing me a kiss.
Already a mile into the run I could tell something was not quite right. I thought it might be the heat, so I did my best to cool off with ice and water at the first aid station. I backed off my pace to 8 minute pace where I felt comfortable and click along a few of those through mile 5. Then I started feeling worse and I wasn’t sure what it could be, because my calories and hydration were spot on. I slowed some more to manage my effort and now using heart rate as a guard rail I tried to keep myself within a heart rate that I knew I could carry over the remaining 21 miles that ended up being about a 9:10 pace. After mile 7 still not finished with my first loop, I walked for first time in any of my 70.3 or Ironman races. Something was not right and I needed a break. Surprisingly I took this well, I thought it would be hard for me to get moving again - but I remembered my family being there, the sacrifices we as a family made, and all Tri Force and friends that were supporting me. I settled with myself on a walk the aid station run between approach for the entire next loop about 8.5 miles where I averaged 9:16/mi. I averaged about 8:30/mi between the aid stations and then took 45 second walk during the aid station grabbing ice, water, and occasionally some Gatorade. I also took a Justin’s almond butter at mile 7 and then again later in the run. This approach worked well it took about a mile for my heart rate to reach about 170 and then I started to get light-headed, so the walk would help reset. This worked very well through that entire loop and then around mile 16.5 my eyes started getting very heavy. I felt like I could fall asleep right there on the course. I figured I would hurt myself less while walking, so I came to a walk even though I still had about another half mile until the next aid station. I saw a guy on the side grabbing his calf cramping. I bent over and helped him up and we walked into the next aid station. This is when it hit me loud and clear I had messed up on my electrolytes. In previous Ironman races I had taken liquid nutrition and so therefore it helped me maintain my electrolyte/water ratio. This time around most of my calories were in solid form and the bulk of the electrolytes I had taken in were in the Skratch bottles, so when I took on the maybe 6 bottles of water during the bike I was flushing them out and my ratio was off. So I had two factors at play here overdrinking of a hypotonic fluid (plain water), and inadequate sodium intake. I knew that at this point I was at risk of Hyponatremia. As soon as I got to the next aid station I grabbed some potato chips and two cups of Gatorade. I continued walking for another mile. This ended being my slowest moving split of the day of a 20min mile as part of a total walking set of 1.5 miles. This was about when the lightening started and it was ferocious. I started worrying about Nicole and Zoë since I knew they had walked from the hotel. I got to jogging again and ran by Tri Force camp and appreciated the encouragement. I gave Charlie a look and shrugged my shoulders as to say, ‘yep this is my day’. When I came by the start line, I was comforted that I didn’t see my family around hoping that meant they all had taken shelter. Then the temperature dropped about 25 degrees and the rain started coming down hard, and it was amazing. The electrolytes were taking hold and I embraced the storm and took off. I was cruising past everyone and came into the park by special needs and the rain started to be a bit painful (I didn’t realize until later it was hail). I embraced it more and picked up the pace I was running under 8:30/mi again and loving every second of it. There was a playful puddle jumping feel to this entire part of the race. Others around me were intentionally making large splashes in the puddles - we went from a survival march to kids chasing each other in the rain. Two miles later the fun ended. I hopped on to the trail system and when I got to the exit of the trail I ran into a wall of about 100 people, which continued to grow to my estimates of 500+ people. We were at mile 21 and I only had 5 miles left. I was getting very cold and noticed that they were handing out trash bags, so I worked my way through the crowd but they were all gone by the time I got there. Then they started handing out potato chips and volunteers were holding up drinking coolers to feel up on coke. The volunteers were so amazing being out there in this crazy weather with us. Some athletes were gathering in large group hugs to stay warm, but I just moved around in place trying to stay warm. Then I had to pee, so I walked over to the port-a-potty, grabbed a swig of Gatorade and made my way back to the crowd. According to my run data, I was paused for 30 minutes. The crowd was starting to make some excellent points with the race official. The storm had passed and at this point it was just cold rain. The race should have been paused 30 minutes earlier when the lightening was going crazy. At this point a group of 500 on a narrow path 9:30 into a long day was starting to get dangerous for other reasons. I knew when we got started again everyone being cold and ready to continue their day would take off. About the time the crowd was advancing and about to overtake the race official and run anyways, he let us go. I placed myself near the front and still found myself 30-40 a half mile in and looked down at my watch to see that I was at 7:10 pace. Ok, my mission now was to close this last 8k and pick off as many of those that took off in front of me. I was flying through about 7:45 pace and with about a mile left a guy in the age group below me made a pass. I dug deep and got back alongside him we pushed each other to the finish and I closed in a 6:50 last mile and 3rd place in the final 5 mile race.
This training was done for the most part in the dark either on the trainer at 3 am Zwifting or on the road running at 5 am. I did enjoy a few rides and runs with others, but compared to previous years this training plan was completely on my schedule. There were days that it was tough, but because I was able to be very specific with my training I feel that every workout contributed and I didn’t have as much time lost in social (other’s plans) workouts. This isn’t a knock against social riding that helps break up the monotony, but there were advantages of solo training with such a short training cycle. I feel I came into the race more fit than I have for any previous Ironman races, so yes I was disappointed I wasn’t able to fit the race together.
When creating my hydration plan I should have determined the amount of electrolytes too. I took for granted my previous racing experience and although I made a major change to my nutrition and tested it multiple times I did not account for the electrolyte debt I was putting myself into. For some quick cowboy math with the Cave Man bars, Skratch bottles, and 6 bottles of water I was taking in about a 236mg/32oz opposed to the general guidelines of 500-700mg/32oz. This of course is specific to each person and can be figured out by a sweat rate test. My optimal range is 400-500mg/32oz.
Overall I don’t how to explain it, but this was the most fun I’ve ever had in a race. Once the pressure of competition faded, I proved something to myself that there was more to this than being competitive. I lived in the moment, didn’t dwell on the hardships, and embraced the experience.
FTP = Functional Threshold Power
NP = Normalized Power
IF = Intensity Factor as 1.0 = 100%
HR = Heart Rate
W/kg = Watts per kilogram
TSS = Training Stress Score
TSB = Training Stress Balance
CTL = Chronic Training Load (42 day look back)
ATL = Acute Training Load (7 day look back)